It’s ‘win or go home’ for the Sao Paulo Storm and Cuiaba Arsenal this weekend in Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, Brazil, where a history of success, extreme heat and raucous fans make an Arsenal game at their home stadium of ‘Dutrinha’ one of the most unique football experiences in the world.
The playoffs, given a little bit of a perspective adjustment, have come early for both the Sao Paulo Storm and Cuiaba Arsenal of Brazil’s CBFA Super Liga, Centro Sul Division. Although it is technically the last regular season game for both squads, these two playoff-teams-from-2013 are squaring off in a winner-moves-on game for the divisions final post-season birth.
“We’ve reached that point in the season where every game is the most important game of the year. It will be great to play in front of our home crowd after two tough road games, and we`re making sure we put together the best preparation possible to take on one of the most talented teams in the country.” said Arsenal Head Coach, Brian Guzman
While the atmosphere for a ‘win-or-go-home’ type of game is always a charged one, a game in Cuiaba is a unique thing in its own right. Cuiaba’s venerable Estadio Eurico Gaspar Dutra, affectionately known as ‘Dutrinha’, has been home to some great football, and the citizens the small Brazilian town (including its sister-city, Varzea Grande, the Cuiaba metro area numbers less than a million by most estimates) regularly pack Dutrinha’s stands for the Arsenal. The high point for attendance came during the Arsenal`s 2012 CBFA national championship victory against the Curitiba Crocodiles, with estimates putting attendance between 5,000 and 6,000 fans.
One reason for the big draw could be that game night at Dutrinha generally offers more than football. Whether it`s a half time rock concert on a full stage, a marching band, kids face painting, or João Geléia (which translates to ‘Jelly John’)-the fan-favorite mascot dressed in amorphous green spandex-there is something for most everyone to enjoy. Combine that with a high quality product – the Arsenal have made the playoffs every year since 2010, including two CBFA national championships in that time span—and it makes sense why this quiet town nestled in the geographic center of South America is regularly getting big turnouts for American football games.
Small Town, Big Sound
While common sense might dictate that road teams would shy away from a hostile opposing crowd, many games in Brazil are often sparsely populated, which means that players from visiting teams sometimes look forward to the atmosphere that Dutrinha and Cuiaba present.
“Believe me, there is not a more “fun” place to play football (in Brazil) than in Cuiaba,” said Storm middle linebacker, Renato Grassioto, “Our athletes face this adversity with excitement and motivation to put on a beautiful spectacle for all of the fans.”
“It doesn’t matter if you play for the Arsenal or not, when you play in Cuiaba, you feel like you are playing in a ‘real’ football game,” added Arsenal QB, Daniel Pereirra.
The constant noise does, however, create some issues for visiting offenses.
“Playing in Dutrinha in front of those (Arsenal) fans. It`s complicated. I think anyone who has ever played there knows what I’m talking about,” said Dhiego Taylor, Storm offensive lineman.
The engine behind Dutrinha’s constant noise is Boca Suja, a ‘torcida’ group (fan club) of the local soccer club, Mixto, who have more or less adopted the Arsenal into their cheering responsibilities over the last few years. They are intense, they are loud, and they don`t stop.
“It is absolutely insane when they get going,” said Arsenal DB, Ken Joshen (Coastal Carolina), “they’ve got fireworks, everybody is screaming. I love it,” he said.
The Arsenal notice and appreciate the support from the community, fans and Boca Suja.
“Our fans are very loud and screaming all the time and pushing our team. It keeps us pumped up,” said Arsenal wide receiver Heron Azevedo (Diablo Valley CC/Pacific University (Oregon)).
“We have the best fans in the world,” added Joshen.
An interesting (and encouraging for those who like to see the growth of football around the world) trend in Brazil is that Cuiaba is not alone in the “small town, big football atmosphere” conversation. Other cities of similar or smaller populations also enjoy intense local support and can count their attendance for home games in the the thousand. Examples include the Jaragua do Sul, Santa Catarina, home to the 2013 Torneio Touchdown league National Champion, Jaragua Breakers, and the five-time Northeastern Brazilian Champion Espectros of João Pessoa, Paraiba.
If the talented players of the Arsenal and their passionate fans weren’t enough of a challenge, perhaps the biggest hurdle to achieving a win in Cuiaba (only one team, the Sao Jose Istepos in 2013, has won at Dutrinha since 2011) is the intense, unwavering, punch-you-in-the-face heat. One of Cuiaba’s nicknames is “Cidade 40” – the ’40’ being for what many consider to be the average temperature when measured in Celsius (for those of you in the USA, 40 Celsius = 104 Fahrenheit). Timeanddate.com projects the temperature at kickoff to be a chilly 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) for the 6 PM kickoff.
Sao Paulo Storm v. Cuiaba Arsenal
Offensive lineman Dhiego Taylor and his Storm teammates aren`t allowing Boca Suja or Cuiaba’s heat distract them from their mission. “I don`t know if (outside factors) generate any nerves. We are just excited to play against a great team,” he said.
The 1.93 meter, 145 kg Taylor (6’4, 320) leads a massive Storm offensive line the clears paths for two dynamic running backs, Matheus Bessa and Alan Giamas. The Storm passing game will look to a variety of receivers, led by recent addition, Luiz Felipe Domingues, who was ranked among ESPN`s top 50 Y-tight ends last year at Miami’s Champagnat High School.
Offensively, the Arsenal will look to counter with speed from dynamic athletes like Well Garcia, Bruno Loeschke and Azevedo, all three of whom are as likely to end up in the backfield as they are in the slot.
Both squads boast talented defenses, the Storm led by star defensive lineman, Bruno da Silva and linebacker, Victor Garcia (Northland JC). The Storm defensive backfield has also been pleasantly surprised by the emergence of safety, Felipe Gadeilha, who has six interceptions this season, one returned for a touchdown. The Arsenal will rely on veterans Igor Mota (safety/LB) and Andrei Vargas (DT) to stop the Storm offense. They will also look to get a big contribution from linebacker and defensive end, Higino Gomes.
With two evenly matched teams, any prediction is far from a sure bet, but two things are for certain. It will be hot, and it will be loud.
Storm Head Coach, Danilo Muller, sums it up best, “It’s for moments like this that we have been preparing all year.”